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Friday 29 August 2014

Worms can't wriggle out of climate change blame

Treacy Hogan

Published 05/02/2013 | 04:00

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GLOBAL 'worming' is being blamed for global warming.

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The lowly earthworm has just become a villain in the battle to save the planet.

However, the worm has not gone from hero to zero as it still plays a vital role in improving soil fertility.

Scientists from Trinity College in Dublin (TCD), along with colleagues in the Netherlands, Colombia and California, discovered that the earthworm is "an agent" of global warming.

They discovered the worm mixes organic plant matter in the soil, increasing decomposition and the release of climate-changing CO2. And by burrowing through the soil, earthworms make it easier for gases in the soil to escape into the atmosphere.

Earthworms, it seems, are to blame for 33pc of all carbon dioxide emissions from non-human sources.

"Earthworms increase emissions of carbon dioxide as well as nitrous oxide," said Dr Kees Jan van Groenigen, a research fellow at TCD.

"It is rather unfortunate that the presence of earthworms . . . has an unwanted effect on greenhouse gas emissions."

The study analysed 57 experiments conducted around the world that include information on how earthworms influence the net soil greenhouse gas emissions.

The earthworm joins cattle as being responsible for carbon emissions, even though humans produce far more emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels. Deforestation is also having a huge impact on the ability to soak up carbon dioxide emissions. The study, Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Soils increased by Earthworms, appears in 'Nature Climate Change'.

Irish Independent

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